Kentucky shooting guard Antonio Reeves set the tone for the No. 15 Wildcats' 96-56 win over North Florida on Wednesday night.
The Illinois State transfer dropped 20 points in his first career start against the Ospreys, 18 of which came in the first half. His blazing shooting stroke set a pace that propelled UK to a 53 percent night from the floor, in what was the third game of the season that the Cats eclipsed 90 points as a team.
It was Reeves' second 20-point game of the season.
"It felt great man, just out there feeling comfortable, being me, my teammates got me involved in the game," he said. “The rim got bigger for me. I just kept shooting the ball. There were a couple of times I missed. Shooters shoot, so I definitely have that mentality.”
After rough outings in the Wildcats' first two big games of the season against Michigan State and Gonzaga, where he shot a combined 5-20, the senior Chicago native answered the bell with an impressive outing on Thanksgiving Eve, draining seven shots on 12 attempts.
His four 3-pointers brought his season total to 16 makes from deep so far this season, something that caught the attention of North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll.
"No. 12 (Reeves), just from watching him on film and from coaching for 35 years, is as good of a 3-point shooter and as good of a 3-point finder as there is in the country," he said post-game. If he doesn’t have a three, he’s going to find it with a step back or a separation, instead of getting thrown off."
When asked about his ability to find those shots instead of just making them, Reeves said it wasn't something he's always been good at, though it's clearly become a strength.
”Definitely found that out, junior year of college," he said. "Being capable of doing that kind of stuff. Being able to work out in the summer time and being able to just work on stuff like that, get separation in front of the defender. I have that ability, so I definitely work on things like that.”
I think that’s why Coach [Calipari] made the switch and started him—maybe to try and get [CJ] Fredrick to come off the bench and do something different," Driscoll added. "I think [Reeves] is a difference maker for [Kentucky] and I think he is going to open up what is going to transpire as he grows into his game."
There also seemed to be an added aggression to Reeves' game on Wednesday, something that had been lacking throughout the first two weeks of the season. It wasn't all 3-pointers, as he added a couple of tough finishes at the rim to earn high point total that was tied for the team-high, along with forward Jacob Toppin.
“Antonio is definitely a spark for us. He can really score the ball, so when he gets going, it’s good for everyone because we feed off that type of energy," Toppin said. "We’re excited that he can do that for us, and we’re excited to see what more we can do.”
Aggression, like his newfound ability for scouring treys, hasn't always been in the repertoire. Thus is the life of a player under head coach John Calipari, someone who stresses doing the little things.
It's been made no secret that Reeves' job is get buckets, but those buckets come much easier when there's a little more rhyme and reason to his playstyle:
"Knowing that i'm a scorer, just get out there and try to make plays for the team. I know the guys need me out there, I try to go into every game having the mindset of just being aggressive."
Earlier in the season, Calipari noted that Reeves has surprised him with his defending ability. Adding that prowess in with his sharpshooting skills can create a powerful combination that is capable of leading a team down the stretch of a season.
That doesn't mean there isn't any room for improvement, of course. Calipari went in depth on what he's still looking from the shooting guard after the UNF victory:
He needs to talk more. He needs to be more engaged in what's happening. Not just playing his man. He does a pretty good job of playing his man. Now we got to take this to another level and say, the way you're playing offensively, some -- he started messing with the ball. That can be cured. You mess with the ball I'll take you out. Just pass it, shoot it, score. If you have a move to make, that's fine. But when he gets in groups of twos and threes, he now is worried about his man and that's when you get beat by all the other stuff. Because basically you're in a zone. I'm taking this out. You take that that way. And he's learning. But I'll tell you what, he's a good player."
Averaging 13.2 points-per-game with nearly a trio of treys a night through six games is quite the place to start as the two-guard continues to seek growth heading into the back-end of non-conference play.
Game recap of the win over North Florida can be found here.
Game Notes from the win can be found here.
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